Eyes That Can See in the Dark

a music journal


April 30, 2001

1:34 AM

I went to see the Marc Copland Trio at Chris' Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia Saturday night. The writeup in the Citypaper essentially described Copland (who played with Drew Gress, bass, and Jochen Rueckert, drums) as a pianist whose main interest is continuing the harmonic explorations and extensions of 1960s trailblazers like Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. I'd say it's a fair assessment. Throughout the 70-minute set I heard (I wasn't able to stay for the second set), Copland consistently resisted the temptation to fall into stereotyped riffs and the like -- and when you're playing chestnuts like "Autumn Leaves" and "So What", that can be damned hard to do. He had a lot of interesting ideas, harmonically at least, and was overall an enjoyable soloist. The bassist and drummer were both capable as well. Perhaps a strong horn player might've added a little fire, but so it goes.

Unfortunately, my ability to enjoy his performance was considerably diminished by the hordes of chattering Yuppies who didn't seem to grasp the concept that the rest of us were wholly uninterested in hearing about their lives, opinions, or personal preferences. Audience noise can be the kiss of death for a piano trio, especially a quiet and introspective one, and this performance was no exception. It's very hard to say what it would have been like to hear Copland in a quiet and pristine venue, but to hear him in Chris' Jazz Cafe kept me from evaluating (let alone enjoying) his performance in any deep way. A pity!

(Comments for April 30, 2001) (4 comments so far)

April 27, 2001 (link)

9:21 PM

I'm back early, having resolved my commitments. In lieu of writing much at the moment (I'm tired), here's a review I wrote for masstransfer that didn't end up making it into the magazine:

Marc Gartman: The Horrible Cocoanut Grove Disaster

When I initially received this excellent CD, I had absolutely no idea what to expect; I'd seen rave reviews from those who had heard it, but all those reviews were strangely short on specifics, though the word "beautiful" seemed to show up a lot.

I don't know how long it had been since I'd popped in a CD without knowing much of anything about it, but when the mystery album is as nice as this one, it's a real pleasure. I keep coming back to two words whenever I think about Cocoanut Grove: tasteful, and tasty. As to the former, it's understated, thoughtful, and often quite lovely. Marc sings on about a third of the tracks, and the rest are instrumental; many of the instrumentals have a strong jazz inflection, especially in the harmonies, that reminds me very much of some of the better albums that came out on the ECM label in the mid-'70s. The songs with vocals tend to be simpler and have a bit more of a folk/country flavor.

Marc has assembled a bunch of very talented and tasteful musicians for this CD, and it shows: every song is played with care and intelligence. The album is recorded unusually well, and it's really a pleasure to hear how well the instruments are captured -- not only the ones that are easy to record, like the Fender Rhodes and Hammond organ that are featured on a couple tracks, but even the tougher ones, like grand piano and upright bass. Whoever engineered this record deserves a lot of credit!

Another review I've seen compares this CD to Low and Will Oldham, but I'm reminded more of Jim White's unsung classic, Wrong-Eyed Jesus. Both records have a great deal of stylistic variety, and hint at jazz, folk and country while still managing to tread a path all their own. More importantly, though, there's a certain fundamental tastefulness that the two records share, and which makes them both a pleasure to listen to.

Tangentially, listening today included The True Meaning of Boodleybaye by Mice Parade and Milestones by Claudio Roditi. I'll talk about both at some point.

(Comments for April 27, 2001)

April 24, 2001

5:08 PM

This page is going to be pretty quiet for the next week or so, as I have some commitments I have to honor. On my return, though, I promise I'll do a few of the things that I've said I would -- like finish my review of Speak No Evil and so forth.

One tidbit: I downloaded the new (old) Syd Barrett track, "Bob Dylan Blues", from Napster today. If you're a Barrettophile, you might enjoy it; it's quite a change of pace to hear Syd write something that's so unambiguously satirical. Thanks to David Gilmour for finally letting this one out; when I get some bucks together, I'll try to pick up the new album.

April 23, 2001

3:36 PM

And this, this is a home run:

"Simultaneously, though, an important aspect to the shows is the direct challenge that they...pose to the pervasive cult of childhood in America. [South Park] generally provides the most pointed rejection of the Rousseauistic notion that children are innocent little angels corrupted by a mean old world only when they reach the age of majority -- not foul-mouthed, competitive, brattish delinquents obsessed by the senses...whom society is charged with the immensely difficult task of somehow educating and civilizing into semi-decent human beings."

I'm not maintaining that children are brattish delinquents, as such. But the point about the "cult of childhood" is very well taken. It's a phrase that's been showing up more and more often lately, and its increase in currency, I hope, will lead to a more sane perspective on childhood in the public discourse.

Okay, enough politics (again!), more music.

3:26 PM

Good article. Great quote:

"In one Simpsons episode of notable even-handedness, for example, signs inside the Republican national convention read 'We want what's worst for everyone' and 'We're just plain evil', but signs at the Democratic convention read 'We hate life and ourselves' and 'We can't govern'."

Clearly, my comments about people using the phrase "culture war" were a bit precipitate -- see the title of that article...

2:29 PM

Josh, you might find this amusing (or maybe not): Great idea, lousy execution. Why does everything have to be augmented and (occasionally) diminished chords? If you're going to do something like this, you should incorporate some kind of meaningful pitch-consciousness. I think this concept awaits a superior algorithm. (Now say that last sentence again in a nasal voice, me, and pull your trousers up to your navel. "This concept awaits a superior algorithm"...did I really just say that?)

(Comments for April 23, 2001)

April 22, 2001

9:29 PM

Hey, I just saw Marc Gartman's new Low video for "Dinosaur Act" on MTV2! Nice work, Marc, I liked it very much. I'm not a big fan of the song itself, but I thought the video came out very well and made me enjoy the song more than I had before -- and hey, isn't that the purpose of a good video, anyway?

6:56 PM

Listening to some Dead Milkmen -- Big Lizard In My Backyard, specifically. I used to listen to this album all the time in 7th Grade, and I always thought of it as being wild and incompetent and punk rock. It's a lot less crazy, though, then I thought it was; only a few tracks ("Takin' Retards to the Zoo", for one) sound as raucous as I'd remembered. And they're actually a lot more competent, too, than I'd remembered.

It's funny -- they were actually quite an influence on me. I think they were the first band that made me realize that "bad" could be good, if you know what I mean. Their rough edges were a huge part of their charm. But for a long time, I had a hard time articulating that to myself in a way that made sense.

2:13 PM

I'm trying an experimental comment system. I designed it in Perl, and though I cribbed tons of code, I also modified it heavily to suit my own intentions. I feel so mighty!

(Comments for April 22, 2001)

April 21, 2001

12:03 AM

More on Fires of Ork: for instance, "Talk to the Stars" is definitely a dozen notches below "Gebirge". It's not that it's bad...it's just not nearly as interesting. (Four-on-the-floor bass, a female voice saying things about making love to the wind and talking to the stars...)

Also, I like this quote:

One of the worst effects CDs have had on music is the ability of bands to cram them full of over an hour's worth of songs. Back when vinyl ruled the day, to go much over 45 minutes required a second record and a significant increase in price. The albums got the best songs, and the rest were rightly relegated to b-sides.

It's obvious, I guess, but I still like it. I haven't heard the new album being reviewed, but I have the Mercury Program's second disc (From the Vapor of Gasoline, on Tiger Style). Some parts are pretty good, especially the sections with vibraphone. As a whole, though, it gets a little monotonous for my taste, and is best listened to a track or two at a time.

April 20, 2001 (link)

11:34 PM

Hymns to the Holy Mother of God (Jade/BMG), by Lycourgos Angelopoulos and the Greek Byzantine Choir, does not do too much for me, I'm afraid. It's got an interesting flavor, but after a minute or two I get tired of it.

On the other hand, "Gebirge" from The Fires of Ork (FAX)-- a collaboration between Geir Jenssen, aka Biosphere, and Pete Namlook -- is pretty good indeed. It reminds me of the music from a great middle-period game like Super Metroid, in which the areas that you pass through shortly before encountering a major boss have a kind of "calm before the storm" feeling in that there aren't many enemies at all, but an ominous quality hangs in the air and you just know that something big and bad is coming your way. "Gebirge" captures that feeling quite nicely, with its death-by-D-minor ostinato octave bassline that has served Roger Waters well on many occasions (cf. "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" and "Goodbye Cruel World").

What I've heard of the remainder of The Fires of Ork hasn't been as appealing. I suspect I favor the Biosphere half of that arrangement more than Namlook; Biosphere's collaboration with the Higher Intelligence Agency, Birmingham Frequencies, is quite enjoyable.

9:39 PM

Too much politics and not enough music in here lately. So:

Right now I'm listening to Joe Zawinul's first solo album, Zawinul. It's the second time I've listened to it, and I'm still not too impressed, though I certainly can't rule out the possibility that it'll grow on me as I get to know it better. Still, it plays like an inferior version of the Miles recordings from the time, or Weather Report's first album that followed shortly thereafter. I also haven't really taken to Woody Shaw's playing on this record; I had never really heard too much of him before, and was looking forward to checking him out, especially as I've seen many positive reviews of his work. But so far I'm not engaged by it; perhaps my opinion will change. The whole thing just seems a bit rambling and unfocused -- especially compared to something like Miroslav Vitous's Mountain in the Clouds.

Funny gag, though -- the last track, "Arrival in New York", is actually an excerpt of a Cannonball Adderley track ("Walk Tall" [correction: "Country Preacher". pfs, 5/25], from the live compilation Best of the Capitol Years), slowed down to 1/4 speed! I can all too easily picture the circumstances in which this happened: Zawinul at 2 am, a bit stoned or drunk, suddenly stopping the engineer who grabbed the wrong reel for playback..."No, wait, man...this is kinda cool at seven-and-a-half...let's put this on the album, what do you think, Joel [Dorn]?" Or perhaps not.

April 16, 2001

10:45 PM

I played Speak No Evil three or four times today. Still percolating. I still find that Shorter's playing is really subdued, but in a bad way -- almost as though he's ill, or preoccupied. None of his solos ever feel fully formed to me -- especially compared to something like "Circle" from Miles Smiles, where he plays one of the most beautiful and perfect solos I've ever heard anyone play.

Herbie Hancock, though, is in good form, and plays what I think are the best solos on the album. The one on "Speak No Evil" is especially good, though the last few bars feature a motivic repetition that I find awkward. Ron Carter is fairly invisible -- partly the recording, no doubt. I'll talk about Elvin Jones and Freddie Hubbard another time.

I downloaded and listened to some Camel (Moonmadness), Billy Cobham (Spectrum) and Magma today. All three were first exposures, and all three are hit-or-miss but have some engaging sections. Considering all the hype, I find Magma to be surprisingly derivative (Mahavishnu meets Gong meets Miles Davis) -- but I still like the way it sounds, inasmuch as those are three of my favorites. The Cobham album has Jan Hammer, so it also sounds like Mahavishnu; in its weaker moments ("To the Women in My Life"...what a title!), you do miss John McLaughlin, whose sense of taste often tended to rein in the excesses of his cohorts, I suspect. And Camel is enjoyable, if a little unmemorable.

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